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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Federal agents have raided a company linked to a tribal official that is suspected of selling cigarettes without paying more than $6 million in state taxes.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has executed search warrants on the Internet-based Silver Cloud Smoke Shop.
The state tax is 91 cents per pack of cigarettes.
Search and seizure warrants filed in federal court show investigators believe San Ildefonso Pueblo First Lt. Gov. Paul Rainbird and other tribal members purchased more than $16 million worth of untaxed tobacco from suppliers. The documents charge they then sold the products for reduced prices and shipped them from an Albuquerque warehouse.
According to an ATF report, Native Americans can buy the cigarettes as long as it is for sale or use on the reservation in which they are enrolled as a tribal member.
But since Rainbird was reportedly selling cigarettes across the country through his Web site, the state claims he had a more than $9 per carton advantage over other businesses and leaving the state of New Mexico out more than $6 million in tax revenue.
Rainbird's attorney said the business is legal because of tribal sovereignty.
Rainbird isn't the only person ATF agents are investigating.
In more than 100 pages of court documents, its revealed the investigation stretches all the way to Bosque Farms.
Court papers show months worth of surveillance focusing on a home belonging to a coworker in Bosque Farms, an Albuquerque warehouse and Rainbird's home.
Rainbird's attorney said his client runs a tribally owned business so he is not required to collect or pay state taxes.
The attorney said, if necessary, they are prepared to fight the allegations.
Rainbird's attorney said ATF agents seized computers, crippling the company's ability to do business.
His attorney also said Rainbird has been selling cigarettes since early 2003 and has never had a problem with the state before.
No one has been charged with any crime and the investigation is ongoing.